Snowboarding stars align at Copper Mountain’s Grand Prix |

Snowboarding stars align at Copper Mountain’s Grand Prix

Bryce Evans
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark FoxKelly Clark, U.S. Snowboarding Team member and Olympic medalist, soars out of the halfpipe while training at Copper Mountain last week. Clark will be part of a world-class field in this weekend's U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix at Copper. Qualifying rounds begin on Thursday, and the finals will be held Saturday beginning at 11 a.m.

For the country’s best halfpipe riders, the journey to the Olympics officially begins this weekend.

Starting Thursday with women’s qualifying heats, the U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix kicks off at Copper Mountain, and all the top names in snowboarding are expected to be in attendance.

In a 110-rider field, Olympic gold medalist Shaun White and Breck’s Steve Fisher, a two-time X Games pipe champ are among those slated to headline the men’s competition that features a slew of international riders, including Antti Auti of Finland.

Other top men competing at Copper: Mason Aguirre, Danny Davis, Scotty Lago, the Matrani brothers (Jack and Luke), Elijah Teter, J.J. Thomas and Louie Vito.

On the women’s side, U.S. Olympians Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter should get a good early season test from Australia’s Torah Bright.

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In addition to the sport’s biggest names, there are also many local riders looking to start their season off right. Summit County teens Zack Black, Dylan Bidez and Brett Esser will be in the men’s competition, and Clair Bidez will look to make the finals for the women.

Copper’s Grand Prix is the first of three stops in the series and also the first official qualifying event for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Only four men and four women are expected to be selected for the Olympic team. And with roughly 15 of the top 20 snowboarders in the world hailing from the U.S., the year of competition is sure to be intense.

The first action of the week at Copper is the women’s qualifying on Thursday. Two heats of women will shred Copper’s pipe for the chance to make Saturday’s finals. The first female heat is slated to start at 10:30 a.m., with the second heat starting at 11:45 a.m.

Friday, the men get into the halfpipe with three qualifying heats. The first begins at 9 a.m., the second at 11 a.m. and the third at 12:30 p.m.

Riders had not been assigned to heats at the time of print Tuesday.

In last year’s Grand Prix held at Copper, Vito edged out an injured Fisher for the men’s title, while Clark edged out Teter on the women’s side.

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